What will stay and what will go?
These are the shoes I wore to my first PET scan in October when they determined my cancer was only targeted to my throat. The Indian man I met who performed the scan commented on them explaining that they were a sign of luck in his country. “Peacock symbolism: Vision, Spirituality, Awakening, Guidance, Protection & Watchfulness. In Greco-Roman Mythology the Peacock tail has the “eyes” of the stars. In Hinduism, the Peacock is associated with Lakshmi who represents patience, kindness and luck.”The week after I was diagnosed with cancer I reached out to a yoga mentor of mine, Willa. I wanted someone who was physically near me who had characteristics like my Guru. I knew I needed to find peace and to somehow shake the anxiety and fear. I remember answering her return call while I was in the back of the car, seated next to our brand new baby because Mike was driving and I didn’t know what it would be like to not be able to see Sam at all times (#firsttimeparents). The next day Willa met me at my house and we chatted somewhat casually about my diagnosis, techniques for maintaining calm breath and healers she knew in the area. Two days later and via Facebook, she introduced me to a friend of hers, Carolyn. Carolyn is a 10 year throat cancer survivor. I met Carolyn for coffee and we talked very openly about her story and what was about to happen in mine. My first question to her was: What stayed and what went? Meaning: When you heard your diagnosis and started this process, there was a huge shift in perspective (because it literally happens in a second)… so what insights/promises/actions “stayed” and what “went” back to normal or in a different direction. I remember her pausing before she said, “unfortunately a lot of it goes back, but there are times when I find myself remembering those hard days and my perspective shifts again.”It’s only been 3 weeks since my first clear scans. And there have already been some major changes. So for me (within these 23 short days), what has stayed and what has gone?
- Stayed: Gratitude for each day and for my family. I think it’s easier to appreciate this life because I have Sam. But even my feelings surrounding him have shifted. It’s a different kind of love. It’s this deep down pit/gut feeling that both energizes me and crushes me all at the same time. Before my scans were clear, I was subconsciously withholding love. Sounds crazy and selfish, I know but here me out: of course I “would-die-for-him” loved my son since the moment I laid eyes on him, but this FREEDOM to FEEL the love and allow it to engulf me to the point of heart attack and suffocation is something so new and so amazing (also terrifying). See, if I were going to die, it wouldn’t have been fair to him or to me (or to Mike) for either one of us to get attached. If I died, he would miss me and I would never want that inconsolable feeling for him. I wouldn’t want him to cry out for me and for Mike to have to be the one to pick up even more of the pieces that I left behind. I did it subconsciously. And I’m not saying what I did was right or wrong, but I withheld my heart for Sam’s sake and for my own emotional sanity. It’s only been 3 weeks since I let down my guard and honestly, if I found out today that the cancer has spread, it would hurt A MILLION times more now because I’ve shown Sam all of my cards- that kid has my everything. And Mike too. There’s a newness in our relationship because there’s light. And life. And because we went through hell TOGETHER and have truly come out a better “us” on the other side. I recently stumbled across an article about Joey Feek (the country singer who passed away from cancer leaving her 2 year old daughter, Indy behind). The article was entitled, “Joey Feek’s Baby hasn’t asked for her since she died.” And the quote from her husband read, “She let Indy fall more in love with me… and less in love with her. She carried the pain on her own shoulders, to try to keep it off of mine.” INSTANT TEARS. Like throw up the vegetarian meal I just made for myself, punch me in the ovaries kind of crying. Tears fall pretty easily for me these days, but this REALLY hit home. It’s exactly how I felt. I am so grateful for today.
- Gone: I started texting and driving again. It sounds silly but it’s true and when I was sick and ONLY had time to think, I decided that I would stop the habit because life isn’t guaranteed and texting and driving is a good way to kill yourself and someone else. I don’t know why but I’ve gotten cocky, and less mindful about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. There’s no reason to text and drive! What’s so important that it can’t wait 20 minutes? Everywhere on the Northshore takes 20 minutes! I need to stop. I had promised i would stop. I’ll start using voice messaging.
- Stayed: I gave up eating animals. Basically anything that once had a face. Except I still eat seafood and technically fish have faces. I’m NOT preaching, I’m not on a soapbox, I don’t even want to call myself a vegetarian (see, I won’t even capitalize the V but omg the truth is that I’m pretty much vegan now since dairy fucks with my body) but I haven’t touched the fleshy stuff since before my feeding tube went in. Sure, there are lots of studies that have been done about cancer and specifically red meat, but that’s not why I gave it up. I gave it up because I hate the idea of killing animals. It’s always something that’s bothered me but I just suppressed that feeling because 1) meat tastes delicious (summertime ribs!), 2) it would have meant a lifestyle change (oh boo hoo, Jaime!) and 3) I was a little embarrassed about my “I don’t want to kill things” reason. It became more of a conviction when I was so sick and when I was fearful and suffering on a day to day basis. I thought to myself, I don’t ever want any living creature to have to endure pain. Ever. It was so awful. And when animals are about to be killed (even humanely), there is fear. Say it however you want to, but that’s the truth. And I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind or argue my point. It is what it is. If I can’t kill it, I’m not eating it. Funny story: Last week I was in Maine visiting my parents. When I walked into the house, my father (who had broken his back and re torn his rotator cuff the day before) was walking(ish) down the hallway with a rifle in his hand. “Hey Dad.” “Hey Jaime, excuse me, there’s a woodchuck out in the yard, I gotta go get ‘im.” Needless to say when I told him an hour later that I’m off the blood, there was a lot of eye rolling and “God put the animals there for us to eat” talk. Namaste, Dad. Not here to preach, just to speak my truth.
- Stayed: Taking time to “get to know” the people who have come into my life (the ones who I may only spend 15 minutes with). Before cancer it seemed like I was just crossing things off of my “to do” list and that was my day. I made eye contact, but it was just surface talk with my eyes, my words and my heart. Now, I believe there’s reason and rhythm to this energy called life. You never know who you have the potential to meet. When I was sick, i had some amazingly intimate and vulnerable conversations with nurses, doctors, technicians, and obviously my healers that I’ve already written about in this blog. Like, A LOT of those talks. The reason it was all medical staff was because those were the only people I talked to for 5 months! I know things about these people that they wouldn’t even disclose to their close friends or family- there was an exchange of “let’s just get right down to it” because I was COMPLETELY OPEN to whatever they had to share and they, the same to me. There was no bullshit. There was DEEP eye contact. There was REALNESS; human interaction and story telling and sharing. I will be lifelong friends with my chemo nurse, Beth. Sometimes it’s easier to tell a stranger the nitty gritty. Oh, that reminds me… Deb, thanks for getting me into Dana Farber within days of the call made through my future sister in law. And thank you for our side bar talk about real life.
Because the whole talking to strangers thing has stayed, I’ve gotten to know Lynne, my lymphedema therapist who massages my turkey gobble neck 2/3 times a week. I told her I was going back to work teaching yoga on Monday. She said I wonder how your teaching will have changed from “before” to teaching “after” (cancer). I couldn’t believe that’s what she said. I’ve been thinking about THAT for weeks now. Gretchen and I have had several talks about it and I was starting to feel a little like “oh shit, I SHOULD change how I teach so that it IS all so different!” But when Lynne asked the question, we both answered it out loud together. Everything became so much more clear. I’m sure it will change but it will change without me prompting it, or consciously doing anything different. I’ll write my sequence, put together a playlist and on Monday night, I’ll teach a fun, challenging, mindful class. And who knows what will be different, but it will be: because I am.